Examining the Consensus Argument of Prochoice Catholic Politicians
March 1991By James G. Hanink
James G. Hanink is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Associate Editor of the NOR. A version of this article was presented as a paper at an ecumenical conference on Ethics: Rights, Responsibilities, and Renewal held at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., last year.
How are we to measure the justice of a society?
The Catholic tradition, rooted in Scripture, answers that the first test of the justice of a people is how it treats the weakest of its members. With fear and trembling, we meditate on the words that Jesus will speak at the Last Judgment: I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me (Mt. 25:45).
A recent expression, among Catholics, of this criterion of judgment is the concept of the preferential option for the poor. But who, in our society, are the poorest of the poor? Who are the least among us, the weakest and most vulnerable? They are the women who are told that the violent and quick fix of an abortion will liberate them. And, of course, they are the preborn babies who are suctioned and scalpeled to death by abortion.
Scripture gives us the foundation for the great and sovereign principle that it is always wrong, on our own authority, to kill the innocent. Already in the earliest Christian writings we find the clear application of this principle to abortion. Thus the Didache teaches, You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born. In the patristic period we find, for example, St. Basil writing that those who give drugs causing abortion are deliberate murderers themselves, as well as those receiving the poison which kills the unborn baby.
In our own time, Vatican II is equally forthright: Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception, and abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. Indeed, the Council groups abortion with murder, genocide, and slavery as among the central infamies opposed to life itself.
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